During the first couple of years at my job, I spent my lunch hour playing board games with a group of three or four others. This period was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of crazy new games, which I have been introducing to my brother's family on fortnightly game nights. I also got to play board games with people, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you consider that I spent my childhood playing them by myself. The only not-fun part about playing with others is that you do lose sometimes, but the upswing is that I got a lot better at that. I'm proud to say that I'm now an accomplished loser.
But then the guy who owned most of the games was laid off. We switched to playing Mario Kart during the lunch hour. I also hold those hours in a special place in my heart, because I finally found out what it was like to be good at a video game. It's not a major life accomplishment or anything, but I feel more a part of my generation. Plus, I got really good, and it's fun to be good at something, even something useless. But then we had to stop playing that, because some of the other people were not accomplished losers, and maintaining good working relationships with my coworkers is more important than that elusive perfect game.
I have turned to a solitary activity during my lunch hour now. But like the others, I have found myself relishing and looking forward to the noon hour. I've been reading.
I always feel like I don't read enough, particularly since I have so many books. For years, I've been picking up books based on their cover. When they cost less than a dollar (sometimes less than a quarter), you pick up anything that looks remotely interesting. It's easy to buy cheap books, but hard to read them. I tried reading at bedtime, but somehow I fell asleep every time. Then I would abandon the habit for a week, and by the time I got back to the book, I'd forgotten what it was about. I had several books on my nightstand with a bookmark about 25 pages in. And then I'd just feel guilty for having all these books and never reading them.
It's something I enjoy when I do it, but somehow I never make time to do it. Why do I need to be made to do something I love?
So I started taking books to work. After eating leftovers at my desk, I go into a rarely-used meeting room with squashy chairs. Lo, and behold, I discovered that I love to read. I think I knew that already.
This system works great for me. Besides making sure that I do make time to read, I frequently get so interested in the book that I pick it up again when I'm back home. No more lonely dog-eared books, I finish them, usually inside a week. I mark passages to copy down later in a little book, otherwise they would probably all start blurring together. When I finish, I either keep it, give it away, or put it in a bag bound for the used book store. And since I'm reading now, I have an excuse to buy more! I just feel...happier somehow. I feel like I am challenging myself, like I am broadening my horizons without having to go outside.
Like the board games and the Mario Kart before it, I am becoming a better reader. Josh told me once that I read like a scientist. I really had no idea what that meant, but even then, I suspected that it wasn't a compliment. I skim more than read, picking out the important stuff while leaving the details behind. Details are pretty and all, but I want to know what happens! I follow what is happening, but I don't really savor the language or the writing. With a lot of books, like most of the books I read in school, you can still get a lot out of reading that way. But when I tried to read something that was slower and less plot-driven, I struggled to get anything out of it.
These realizations have only come lately. For a long time, I did not know that I read this way. I didn't know there was any other way to read.
Recently, I was reading a travel journal written by a guy who went into British Columbia to talk to old prospectors and see the last of the wilderness before it disappeared. Man, nothing happened in that book. I liked the part where he told stories about local characters, and I liked the history of a place so shaped by a long-ago gold rush, but I struggled with the rest. It was a slog, which seemed appropriate considering it was mostly about travelling to places where there were no roads to get there. One night, when I was reading, I couldn't focus. I was skimming to the point where I couldn't have told you what the last sentence had said, because nothing had happened in the last ten pages. In an effort to pay attention, I made myself reread a passage several times. And then finally, something clicked. There was a line in there about a wall full of filleted salmon hanging up to be smoked, like a wall of leaves in autumn colors. I realized what a beautiful image it was, and as I kept reading, there were more and more. There was a whole chapter about salmon. All they did was swim upstream, but I was riveted.
By then, I was more than halfway through the book. I realized that the parts that I had considered a chore were also probably full of such lovely writing, but at that point, the memory of the slogging was too strong. I finished the book wishing that I had paid more attention to it in the beginning. But it was worth it, for the little bit that I got out of it and also the realization that I needed to slooooow down. It was like discovering reading again, not just for the story or the ideas, but the transportive feeling you can get from it. Before, I was learning about the British Columbian wilderness, but now I felt like I was there. It's more than a little sad that it took me so long to figure this out, as I've always considered myself a reader. It makes me wonder what I've been getting out of reading. I swear I loved it before. I bet I wrote college scholarship essays about how much I loved it. I bet I used the word "voracious."
So yeah. I discovered, at the age of 29, that reading can open your mind and transport you to other worlds. I could've saved myself a lot of time and just listened to LeVar Burton, but I guess some people have to learn things the hard way.